Cynthia Rylant was born in Hopewell, Virginia, on June 6, 1954. Her years in Appalachia are reflected in her writing, notably in her books, When I Was Young in the Mountains, and Waiting to Waltz, which are autobiographical.
Her grandparents were very important in her life because she lived with them from the time she was four until she was eight. When her parents separated, her mother decided to go back to school and become a nurse and could not take Cynthia with her. It was at that time that her mother took her to Cool Ridge, West Virginia, to live with her grandparents.
Her grandfather was a coal miner, and her grandmother stayed at home. A couple of cousins lived there, and aunts and uncles came often. She listened to her relatives telling coal camp stories, and "their voices went deep inside her."
Rylant loved school not because she liked to study and learn so much as she enjoyed being with the other children. About her childhood and becoming a writer, she said, "As a kid I read mostly comic books and had no idea at all that I might be a writer someday. That's one of the best things about life —all those good surprises waiting for you in the years ahead, like presents in a box."
As a child she read Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books as well as comic books. At the drug store she could buy three comic books for a quarter, so she collected and sold pop bottles to get the money for the comic books.
It never occurred to Rylant that she might become a writer. When she went to college, she began reading and loving literature, and when she took a job in a library at the age of twenty-three, she discovered all the children's books that she had missed as a child. Secretly she began writing and sending her work to publishers.
She now lives in Kent, Ohio, with her son, Nate, and two dogs, two cats, a goldfish, and a hermit crab. She enjoys feeding the birds, walking the dogs, going to the movies, and collecting quilts. Her Henry and Mudge books came from watching her son and their English mastiff together.
Rylant writes when she gets a strong feeling that it is time to write. Then she becomes deeply engrossed in the writing, but there may be weeks, months, or even years between writings. She writes her stories straight through and does little revision.
When I Was Young in the Mountains was named a notable book for younger readers by the American Library Association in 1982, and Waiting to Waltz was named a notable book for older readers in 1984. The Relatives Came, illustrated by Steven Gammell, was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1986. When I Was Young in the Mountains, illustrated by Diane Goode, was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1983.
During any given year there may be as many as five thousand books published for children. The American Library Association chose A Fine White Dust to be a Newbery Honor Book, in their judgment one of the four best books written in 1986. Missing May was awarded the 1993 Newbery Medal.
Cynthia Rylant is a child of Appalachia, raised in the small town of Beaver, West Virginia. She came to this town at age eight to live with her mother, after living for four years at her grandparents' home in a nearby town. Her grandparents' house had been filled with loving aunts and uncles and cousins who had also come to stay, none of whom had much money, but they had time and love. Much of her work reflects her memories of this life which moved at a slow pace, and Rylant often provides the reader with a reminiscent look at the close relationships of families who have few material things, but really care about one another. Rylant says that she "soaked it all up, every last bit of it," and later began to "ease these memories out, little by little, and [I] led them into books."
Before this time at her grandparents' home, Rylant's early childhood was an unhappy one. She was born on June 6, 1954, while her father was in the army. For four years her parents moved to different bases and were unhappy with one another. Rylant's mother took her back to Cool Ridge,...
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